Whether or not we agree with having a close season for coarse fish on our rivers, or at least require a change in the dates concerned, the fact remains that at this moment in time it is the law of this land. Serious anglers, however, whatever their view on the matter, are largely responsible and sufficiently law-abiding to respect the close season. Those who do not are, in the main, irresponsible and not always familiar with the law – and could well be committing other offences, such as not having a valid rod-licence, fishing without permission, or taking fish in excess of the prescribed size limit. For this reason, therefore, the close season is an obvious period when offences on rivers can easily be detected – making those who commit fisheries offences vulnerable to detection. That being so, the 2014 close season was a perfect opportunity to cement and increase partnership working between the police, Environment Agency (EA), and Voluntary Bailiff Service (VBS), and get everyone working together.
Enforcement of all kinds today is driven by what is called the National Intelligence Model (NIM), two aspects of which are particularly important to us. Firstly, gone are the days of aimless patrolling – which wastes time and does not necessarily target particular offenders or problem areas and times. Instead, the whole process is driven by intelligence – information – much of which is provided by the public (if necessary anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111). This information is then analysed and patterns identified. This enables operations to be mounted, which are appropriately focussed and resourced. Indeed, the EA is not an emergency service, and nor is it resourced to respond to every reported incident. That is not to say it never does, because sometimes a resource may be available and in the area concerned, but the system is simply not set up to work like that anymore. Recently, for example, an angling journalist encountered two anglers fishing illegally and rightly reported this to the EA. Unfortunately, because he clearly did not understand how the intelligence-led system works, he was frustrated and disappointed when a posse of EA enforcement officers did not immediately respond. That call, however, has been recorded and fed into the intelligence system. It could well be that some snippet of information contained therein will match up with another call – and increase the intelligence picture. That call may be the only one received about that venue – or may be one of a number, meaning that peak offending times will be known and an operation mounted accordingly. These days, things have to be done properly, because it is very dangerous out there: all anglers have a legitimate reason to carry a knife, and you never know, when dealing with strangers, who you are speaking to. This is why operations have to be carefully pre-planned and appropriately resourced. So, it is very important that we all understand this – so that our expectations are realistic. Moreover, it is crucial that we all understand how much we need to report incidents and information to the police and EA – those calls are recorded, fed into the intelligence matrix, and are all part of a jig-saw. Also, these are the statistics used for evidencing the extent of a problem and justifying more resources – without those calls, therefore, we are all powerless. So, never, ever, underestimate the value of picking up the phone – flashing blue lights and ‘Team America’ may not result – but you can rest assured that the information will be acted upon as per the all-important NIM.
Last year, the Voluntary Bailiff Service (VBS), which was then some thirty-odd strong, initiated and worked with EA fisheries enforcement officers on Operation CLAMP DOWN (OCD) – targeting illegal fishing in SE England (where VBS remains an operational pilot project). The VBS has been very carefully thought out, and in some respects is based upon the Special Constabulary, in others the Neighbourhood Watch. At Phase One, Volunteer Bailiffs (VBs) are trained by the Angling Trust, EA, Cefas, and National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU), to be intelligence gatherers. VBs, therefore, are not expected to identify themselves but patrol discreetly, reporting information and incidents to a prescribed standard of evidential value. Again, the vital importance of this task, gathering intelligence and feeding it into the insatiable system, cannot be over emphasised – it might not be a ‘death or glory’ approach, but it is absolutely essential – because in enforcement intelligence is everything. In due course, however, the idea is that in Phase 2, certain, carefully selected, VBs will be provided exactly the same training, powers and personal protection equipment as EA fisheries enforcement officers. This is a big commitment, however, requiring a certain level of physical fitness, so we do not expect all VBs to move up a notch. Many, due to personal circumstances or choosing, will happily remain at Phase 1, acting as ‘eyes and ears’ and providing essential support. What Phase 2 does mean, is that ultimately VBs can make a contribution to, say, rod-licence checking – thus enabling EA staff to spend their time dealing with more complicated investigate work.
OCD provided an opportunity for us to ensure that VBS would work. VBs undertook 167 patrols, reported fourteen offences to the EA, two of pollution, and assisted the police on two occasions. One of the latter, in fact, concerned the shocking discovery by VBs of two handguns and a machine-gun hidden on the banks of the river Thames! This very much emphasised the fact that all manner of nefarious activity goes on in the rural area, often undetected and frequently unreported. This brings me on to the second part of how the NIM works for us.
According to the NIM, partnership working is all-important, which is to say that everyone with an interest in a particular matter should work together, sharing intelligence, and understanding that they are part of a picture much bigger than themselves alone. Fisheries offences, for example, sits within both Rural and Wildlife Crime. We know that people who are poachers – which is to say those who fish without licences and/or steal fish – are often involved with other offending, such as theft and drugs. This is why we have backed the NWCU’s Project TRESPASS (http://www.nwcu.police.uk/uncategorized/poachers-being-put-in-their-place-6-months-of-success-for-project-trespass/) – an initiative aimed at encouraging police forces nationwide to better understand the wider criminal implications of poaching, and act accordingly. Nationally, due in no small part to an appropriate application of the NIM, crime figures are falling – but not in the rural area. This has led to a new National Rural Crime Strategy, and all forces consulting with their local communities to produce their own bespoke version. This, therefore, brings me to Operation CLAMP DOWN 2 (OCD2).
The VBS now has sixty-seven VBs operational in Phase 1, and now has a dedicated, secure, website for communication, sharing information, and reporting on patrols – incidents in progress, however, are always reported at the time, as we all should, via the EA’s incident hotline: 0800 80 70 60. We have an excellent team of five Area Coordinators (AC) and a committed team of EA staff supporting VBS – and some of whom, in turn, VBS directly works alongside. We are also in the process of educating the police regarding their responsibilities and powers concerning fisheries offences – and how this fits into that much bigger picture of Rural and Wildlife Crime. OCD2, therefore, represented an ideal opportunity for the VBS and EA to involve and work with the police. Detective Inspector Nevin Hunter, Head of the National Wildlife Crime Unit, said “The VBS is a really worthwhile initiative, which the police service fully supports. Anglers represent an important source of rural intelligence to the police, and volunteers who are trained in intelligence gathering could be of great benefit to various enforcement agencies. We are, of course, already engaged with and sharing intelligence with the EA, so police forces engaging with OCD2 is really important to cementing those partnerships at local level and really helping us all understand each other’s problems and decide how best we can work together”.
So it was that OCD2 built upon the early success of OCD – but this time featured not only more joint patrols between VBs and EA staff, but a number of joint VBS/EA patrols with officers from Thames Valley, Hampshire, Hertfordshire and Kent Police. This was a real step forward. Chief Inspector Colleen Lavery, of Thames Valley Police, said: “We are just one of the forces pleased to support OCD2 – having invested in training thirteen Wildlife Crime Officers to deal with all elements of wildlife crime (in addition to their normal roles). OCD2 provided an opportunity to work with a valued partner agency to build on our intelligence picture, and deal with those engaged in criminal activities along our waterways – thereby making them safer places for our communities to enjoy’. Adrian Brightley, the EA’s VBS Project Manager, said “It is great to see everyone working together like this – which sends out a powerful message to offenders. We are all very keen for this to continue.” Perfectly put – job done.
During OCD2, the VBS completed 365 patrols and reported fifteen incidents to the EA. Interestingly, although the number of patrols were more than doubled, and there being more VBs on the ground, only one more offence was detected than during OCD. This is unsurprising – after over a year of heavily publicising fisheries enforcement, the word is, we understand, starting to get around. Interestingly, during OCD, all anglers reported for out of season fishing were exclusively British. This year, all but one were British – which perhaps puts problems with migrant anglers in this particular region of England into perspective. The relatively low number of incidents when offset against the hours spent patrolling is also interesting – because this suggests that out of season fishing is not as great a problem as we might think it is. One incident in 24.33 patrol hours is also ample evidence of why fisheries enforcement must be intelligence-led and comply with the NIM – it would simply not be cost effective to have Agency staff aimlessly wandering around on patrol – reassuring to anglers though that presence may be – when the chance of happening across an incident is so random. Intelligence-led enforcement is a much more effective and efficient use of resources – and that is why all anglers need to understand how the system works and make that call. At the time of writing, we await feedback from the Agency concerning the outcome of the fifteen incidents in progress reported by the VBS during OCD2.
So, another successful operation this year, for many important reasons. The Angling Trust would like to take this opportunity to thank our VBs for their commitment and hard work, the EA staff who have supported OCD2, and all police forces who have worked with us.
Anyone wishing to learn more about what is happening in fisheries enforcement should regularly look in on this blog, and the Angling Trust Facebook page. Various guides can be downloaded here, to help you understand the law and system: http://www.anglingtrust.net/page.asp?section=930§ionTitle=Voluntary%20Bailiff%20Service
Dilip Sarkar MBE
Angling Trust Fisheries Enforcement Manager